Saturday, May 13, 2017

Pulling Down Strongholds

There is a type of injury that happens in religious formation that can, so to speak, blow out the bridge between a person and the truth. As I see it, this happens when truths or half-truths are communicated via an environment that lacks virtue, thereby creating internal dissonance in those taught by it. For example, I grew up in a church which was emphatic about the authority and sacredness of Scripture, but demonstrated a lackadaisical attitude towards living in obedience to what Scripture says. Scripture in this way became for me an instrument of ideology, not light and truth leading me to know, love, and worship God. But if you challenged me on the importance of the Bible, boy, I'd give you an earful.

I've heard others speak of their own disconnects, such as being told to "offer up" their suffering, but without any accompanying sense of God's tender love from those so instructing them. For them, the doctrine of redemptive suffering might then be reduced to, "Shut up, you unworthy irritation, and suffer like everyone else." And they might resent anyone who speaks of spiritual experience that suggests rising out of this cowed position is even possible: who does she think she is that God would love her so specially?

Unchecked, these disconnects foment in our souls, attract darkness, and grow into sick, lying thought patterns which we believe, but rarely think about, or challenge. Or if we do think about them, we find a way to fight about them, and they make us sick with misery and despair, or lead us to degrade and destroy ourselves and others. These thoughts become what St. Paul calls a "stronghold." He teaches us to destroy them:

For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

Ironically enough, I experienced one of these disconnects I mentioned above when learning about this spiritual practice of destroying, or "pulling down" strongholds. This is not a phrase a lot of Catholics use regularly, but my pre-Catholic environment sometimes bandied this term about. I came away with a vague sense that it meant getting angry at wrong ideas, and prayer-yelling at spirits who took up habitation in people who thought incorrectly. It also seemed the single most popular "stronghold" was a "religious stronghold," which meant people who practiced a Christianity that looked different than the prayer-yellers'. And when you boiled that down, it meant non-charismatic Protestants, and, of course, Catholics of all stripes.

So eventually when I heard someone talk about pulling down strongholds, I loosely translated it "become a self-righteous religious bigot." And since I had enough of that going for me without help, I just tuned it all out. And then I became a Catholic, and my new people didn't use that lingo.

But recently, like digging up the garden for spring planting and finding something accidentally buried there, I came across this Scripture with fresh eyes. And I realize I have come to a completely different understanding of it than the caricature of it I gave up on years ago.

The truth is, we do have spiritual power, and it comes in speaking and living with integrity the truth and the light, which is Jesus. We will encounter lies believed, both in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. No heart can bear to see all of its darkness at once, so daily we pray to be brought into the union of light and love which yields to truth in thought and action. And our power to confront and destroy falsehood does not come from how strenuously we can yell. Our power is in love. There is the moment when love blazes forth in anger at evil, but the motivation of that anger is to proclaim God the supreme power in that contest. In most cases, actual listening and entry with the other into the place where the falsehood first got lodged, with patient truth speaking, light shining, and firmness of integrity, will be the most effective in ushering in God's light.

We have to go to the heart of the mess with truth and light.

We need to always speak and act in truth and light. And integrity means, when we mess up, we fess up. Every time. Ask God daily to correct all of your ways, renew your mind, and to cleanse you for worship of Him. And then trust Him to do it!

And when you aren't invited in but fought against, don't argue; pray for the entrance of light, for darkness to be exposed, and for truth to reign.

This is love for another person, to enfold them in truth, which makes them free.

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